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Pope joins celebrations for "Catholic Action" 150th anniversary

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Sunday joined members of the Italian lay Catholic group “Azione Cattolica Italiana” as they celebrated 150 years since their foundation. They were gathered in St. Peter's Square with balloons and banners for a special audience with the Pope and for the recitation of the Regina Caeli prayer.

Catholic Action was the name of many groups, especially active during the 19th century that aimed to encourage a Catholic influence on society in countries that fell under anti-clerical regimes.

Italy’s “Azione Cattolica” is probably the most active Catholic Action group still around today. It was founded in 1867 by Mario Fani and Giovanni Acquaderni with the name “Italian Catholic Youth Society”.
 
Speaking to the some 70,000 members of the group present in St. Peter’s Square for the occasion, the Pope said it is vital to walk looking ahead (and not behind) and to be missionary disciples that reach out to the peripheries.  

The Pope said the Church is grateful for the contribution made to society by “Azione Cattolica” with its passion for the world and for the Church.

He encouraged all members to be open to the world and not to look back complacently at a glorious history, but to go out into the world bearing the Lord’s testimony of joy and of hope. 
  
The Pope recalled some well-known members of the group like Giuseppe Toniolo, Armida Barelli, Piergiorgio Frassati, Antonietta Meo, Teresio Olivelli, Vittorio Bachelet, and urged those present to live up to their examples.

He told them to always be at the service of the dioceses and the parishes to which they belong and to channel all initiatives towards evangelization, “not self-conservation”.

 “Just as your predecessors did 150 years ago, feel the responsibility within you to sow the good seed of the Gospel in your lives and in the world, through the service of charity and political commitment” he said.

And with a heartfelt call, especially to the youth of “Azione Cattolica”, the Pope said: “go, reach all the peripheries! Be Church with the strength of the Holy Spirit.”    

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis in-flight presser after Egypt visit

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday evening, during his return from Egypt, held his traditional inflight “press conference” with journalists onboard the Papal plane touching on a wide range of issues.

Amongst the topics elaborated upon, he spoke of his concern for the North Korea crisis for which he urged diplomatic mediation, of the phenomenon of populism in Europe and across the world and of the dramatic situation of forced migrants and refugees in many refugee camps.

Please find below CNA and EWTN’s full transcript of the Pope's inflight press conference:

Greg Burke (Vatican press director): Here among the journalists are those who are making a trip for the first time and those who have made almost 100.. No, more than 100, I think… And you, I don’t know if you know how many international trips you’ve made…

Pope Francis: 18! 

Greg Burke: Ah, 18, alright great. I didn’t know. Nineteen is around the corner, so also you have a good number of Papal trips now. Thanks for this moment which is always a strong moment for us and let’s start with the Italian group, Paolo Rodari. I don’t know if you want to say something first.

Pope Francis: Yes, good evening and thanks for your work because these were 27 hours, I think, of much work. Thanks so much for what you did, thank you. And I’m at your disposal.

Greg Burke: Thank you, Holy Father.

Paolo Rodari (Repubblica): Hello. Holy Father, thank you. I wanted to ask you about your meeting yesterday with al Sisi. What did you speak about? Topics of human rights were mentioned and, in particular, that you were able to speak about the case of Giulio Regeni, and do you think the truth will be reached in that regard?

Pope Francis: On this I will give a general response, to then reach the particular. Generally when I am with a head of state in private dialogue, that remains private, unless, by agreement, we say ‘let’s say on this point, we’ll make it public.’ I had four private dialogues here with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, with al Sisi, with Patriarch Tawadros and with Patriarch Ibrahim and I believe that if it is private, for respect one must maintain privacy… it is confidential… but later there is the question on Regeni. I am concerned, from the Holy See I have moved on that topic because the parents also asked me to. The Holy See has moved. I will not say how or where, but we have moved.

Greg Burke: Dario Menor Torres, from El Correo Espanol.
 
Dario Menor (El Correo Espanol): Thank you, Holiness! You said yesterday that peace, prosperity and development deserve every sacrifice and later you underscored the importance of the inalienable rights of man. Does this mean a support for the Egyptian government, a recognition of its role in the Middle East, and how it tries to defend Christians despite insufficient democratic guarantees from this government?

Pope Francis: Could you repeat… what does what mean? I didn’t hear…

Dario Menor: If these words that you said on the importance of peace, of prosperity and development, saying that they deserve every sacrifice, if we should interpret them as a support of the Egyptian government and how it tries to defend Christians despite insufficient democratic guarantees.

Pope Francis: No, No… one must interpret (it) literally as values in themselves… I said that defending peace, defending the harmony of peoples, defending the equality of citizens, whichever the religion they profess may be, are values. I spoke of values! If a person who governs defends one value or defends another, it is another issue. I have made 18 [international] visits. In many of those nations, I’ve heard, ‘But the Pope, going there, gives support to that government,’ because a government always has its weaknesses or it has its political adversaries, and some say one thing or another… I don’t get mixed up (in that)... I speak about values, and every person sees, is a judge if this government, this state, that from here, that from there, carries those values forward…
 
Dario Menor: Were you left with the urge to visit the Pyramids?

Pope Francis: But, do you know that today at 6:00 in the morning, two of my assistants went to visit the pyramids?
Dario Menor: Would you have liked to go with them?

Pope Francis: Truly, yes.

Dario Menor: Thanks a million.

Virginie Riva (Europe 1): Holy Father, a question possibly starting from the trip and extending it to France, if you accept. You spoke at al-Azhar, at the university, about demagogic populism. French Catholics in this moment are tempted by the populist or extreme vote, they are divided and disoriented. What elements of discernment could you give these Catholic electors?

Pope Francis: Great… there is a dimension of “populisms” - in quotes, because you know that this word for me, I’ve had to relearn it in Europe, because in Latin America it has another meaning - there is an issue in Europe and there is an issue of the European Union behind it… that which I said about Europe I will not repeat it here… I’ve spoken about it four times, I believe, twice in Strasbourg, once at the Charlemagne Prize and at the beginning of the commemoration of the 60th. There is everything I’ve said about Europe. Every nation is free to make choices that it believes convenient before this. I cannot judge if this choice is made for this reason, or for another, because I don’t know the internal politics. It is true that Europe is in danger of dissolving. This is true! I said it softly in Strasbourg. I said it more strongly at the Charlemagne [Prize ceremony] and lately without nuance. We must meditate on only that - the Europe that goes from the Atlantic to the Urals - there is an issue that scares Europe and perhaps feeds … the issue is emigration. This is true. But let’s not forget that Europe was made by migrants, centuries and centuries of migrants. We are them! But it is an issue that must be studied well, also respecting opinions, but the honest opinions of a political discussion - with the capital letter, big, with the big ‘Politics’ and not with the little ‘politics’ of the nation that in the end winds up falling. About France, I’ll tell the truth. I don’t understand the internal French politics. I don’t understand it. I’ve sought to have good relations, also with the current president, with which there was a conflict once, but after I was able to speak clearly about things, respecting his opinion. On the two political candidates, I don’t know the history. I don’t know where they come from, nor - yes, I know that one represents the strong right, but the other I truly don’t know where they come from - for this (reason) I cannot give a clear opinion on France. But, speaking with Catholics, here in one of the gatherings, while I was greeting people, one said to me, ‘But why don’t you think big about politics ?’ What does that mean? Well, he said it to me as if asking for help… eh, to make a party for Catholics. This is a good man but he’s living in the last century. For this, the populisms have relationships with migrants, but this is not from the trip. If I still have time later I can return to this. If I have time, I will return.

Vera Shcherbakova (ITAR-TASS): Holy Father, thank you first of all for the blessings… you blessed me. I knelt down some minutes ago. I am Orthodox and I don’t see any contradiction with my baptism, anyway, I see it as a great pleasure. I wanted to ask: what are the prospects for the relations between the Orthodox, obviously Russian, but also yesterday in the common declaration with the Coptic Patriarch, the common date of Easter (came up) and that they speak of a recognition of baptism… where are we on this point? How do you evaluate the relations between the Vatican and Russia as a State, also in light of the defense of the values of Christians in the Middle East and especially in Syria? Thanks.

Greg Burke: This is Vera Shcherbakova, of the TASS Agency.

Pope Francis: Christos Anesti! I, with the Orthodox, have always had a great friendship, since Buenos Aires, no? For example, every January 6th I would go to vespers, to the complete readings, at your Cathedral of Patriarch Plato, who is in an archbishop in the area of Ukraine, no? And he… two hours and forty (minutes) of prayer in a language that I didn’t understand, but you could pray well, and then the dinner with the community. Three hundred people, a Christmas Eve dinner, not a Christmas dinner. They still couldn’t eat dairy or meat, but it was a beautiful dinner and then bingo, the lottery… friendship… also with the other Orthodox, also sometimes they needed legal help. They would come to the Catholic Curia because they are small communities and they would go to the lawyers. They’d come in and out. But, I’ve always had a filial, fraternal relationship. We are sister Churches! With Tawadros, there is a special friendship. For me, he’s a great man of God! And Tawadros is a patriarch, a pope that carries the Church forward, the name of Jesus before (him). He has a great apostolic zeal… He is one of the most - permit me the word, but in quotes - ‘fanatics’ of finding a fixed date for Easter. I am too. We are seeking the way. But he says, ‘Let’s fight!’ He is a man of God. He is a man who, when he was bishop, far from Egypt, went out to feed the disabled, a man who was sent to a diocese with five churches and he left behind 25, I don’t know how many Christian families with the apostolic zeal. The you know how they make the election among them. They look for three, then they put the names in a bag, they call a child, they close their eyes and the child chooses the name. The Lord is there. He is clearly a great patriarch. The unity of baptism is moving ahead. The guilt of baptism is an historical thing (Editor’s note: Pope Francis seems to be referring to the historical ‘breach’ between the recognition of baptism between the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic traditions. Neither currently recognizes baptism carried out in the other Church), because in the first Councils it was the same, then as the Coptic Christians baptized children in the shrines, when they wanted to get married, they came to us, they were married with a Catholic, they asked for the faith… but they didn’t have it and they asked for baptism under a condition. It started with us, not with them… but now the door has been opened and we are on a good path of overcoming this issue, the door…. In the common declaration, the penultimate paragraph speaks of this. The Russian Orthodox recognize our baptism and we recognize their baptism.  I was a very close friend as the bishop of Buenos Aires with the Russians, also with the Georgians, for example… but the patriarch of the Georgians is a man of God, Ilia II. He is a mystic! We Catholics must learn also from this mystical tradition of the Orthodox Churches. During this trip, we had this ecumenical encounter. Patriarch Bartholomew was there too. The Greek Orthodox Archbishop was there and then there were other Christians - Anglicans, also the secretary of the Union of Churches of Geneva (Editor’s note: Pope Francis is referring to the Conference of European Churches) but all that makes ecumenism is on the path. Ecumenism is made on the path, with the works of charity, with the works of helping, doing things together when they can be done together. Static ecumenism doesn’t exist! It is true that theologians must study and come to an agreement, but it will not be possible for this to finish well if we’re not walking. What can we do together? Pray together, work together, do works of charity together… but, together, eh! And move ahead. The relations with Patriarch Kirill are good. They are good. Also, Metropolitan Archbishop Hilarion has come many times to speak with me and we have a good relationship.

Greg Burke: She’s asking about with the State…

Pope Francis: Ah, with the State! I know that the State speaks of this, of the defense of Christians in the Middle East. This I know and believe that it is a good thing to fight against persecution… today there are more martyrs than in the first centuries, most of all in the Middle East.

Greg Burke: Phil Pulella...this question will address the trip, but then let's see where it ends...
 
Phil Pulella (Reuters): If I can I would like to speak about another topic, but I'll start with the trip. You spoke yesterday in your first speech about the danger of unilateral action, and that everyone must be builders of peace. Now you have spoken very clearly about the "third world war in pieces," but it seems that today this fear and anxiety is concentrated on what is happening in North Korea...
 
Pope Francis: Yes, it's the focal point!
 
Pulella: Exactly, it's the point of concentration. President Trump sent a team of military ships to the coast of North Korea, the leader of North Korea threatened to bomb South Korea, Japan and even the United States if they succeed in building long-range missiles. People are afraid and speak of the possibility of a nuclear war as if it were nothing. You, if you see President Trump, but also other people, what will you say to these leaders who are responsible for the future of humanity? Because we are in a very critical moment...

Pope Francis: I would call them, I call them and I will call them like I called on leaders in different positions to work on resolving problems along the path of diplomacy, and there are facilitators, many of them, in the world. There are mediators who offer...there are countries like Norway, for example, no one can accuse Norway of being a dictatorial country, and it's always ready to help, to name an example, but there are many. The path is the path of negotiation, the path of diplomatic solutions. This world war in pieces of which I've been talking about for two years more or less, it's in pieces, but the pieces have gotten bigger, they are concentrated, they are focused on points that are already hot. Things are already hot, as the issue of missiles in North Korea has been there for more than a year, now it seems that the thing has gotten too hot. I always say to resolve problems on the path of diplomacy, negotiation, because the future of humanity...today a widespread war destroys I don't say half of humanity, but a good part of humanity, and it's the culture, everything. It's terrible. I think that today humanity is not able to support it. Let's look to these countries that are suffering an internal war, inside, where there are the fires of war, in the Middle East for example, but also in Africa, in Yemen. Let's stop! Let's look for a diplomatic solution! And there I believe that the United Nations has the duty to resume their leadership, because it's been watered down a bit.

Pulella: Do you want to meet President Trump when he comes to Europe? Has there been a request for a meeting?
 
Pope Francis: I still have not been informed by the Secretariat of State if there has been a request, but I receive every head of state who asks for an audience. 
 
Greg Burke: I think the questions on the trip have finished. We can take one more still, then we have to go to dinner at six-thirty. There is Antonio Pelayo from Antena 3, who you know…

Antonio Pelayo (Antena 3): Thank you. Holy Father, the situation in Venezuela has deteriorated recently in a very serious way, and there have been many deaths. I want to ask you if the Holy See intends to carry out this action, this peacemaking intervention, and what forms could this action take?

Pope Francis: There was an intervention from the Holy See at the strong request of the four presidents that were working as facilitators. And the thing didn’t turn out. And it remained there. It didn’t turn out because the proposals weren’t accepted or they were diluted. It was a ‘yes-yes,’ but ‘no-no.’ We all know the difficult situation of Venezuela. It is a nation that I really love. And I know that now they are insisting, I don’t know well from where, I believe that it’s from the four presidents, on relaunching this facilitation and they are looking for the place. I think that this has to be with conditions already, very clear conditions. Part of the opposition doesn’t want this. Because it’s curious, the very opposition is divided and on the other hand it appears that the conflicts are always worse.  But, there is something in movement. I was informed of that, but it is very up in the air still. But all that can be done for Venezuela has to be done, with the necessary guarantees, if not we’re playing ‘tin tin pirulero’ (Editor’s note: this is a Spanish term for trying one thing, then another and another without knowing what one is doing). It’s not working...

Greg Burke: Thank you Holy Father. And now we go to...

Jörg Heinz Norbert Bremer (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung): Some days ago you spoke about the theme of refugees in Greece, in Lesbos, and you used this word "concentration camp" because there were too many people. For us Germans this was obviously a very, very serious word, and very close to "extermination camp." There are people who say that this was a linguistic lapse. What did you intend to say?

Pope Francis: First, you must read well everything that I said. I said that the most generous in Europe were Italy and Greece. It's true, they are closer to Libya, to Syria. From Germany, I have always admired the ability of integration. When I studied there, there were many integrated Turks in Frankfurt. They integrated and had a normal life. There was no linguistic lapse: there are concentration camps, sorry: refugee camps that are true camps of concentration. Perhaps there are some in Italy, or in another area...in Germany, I'm not sure, but you think of what people do who are closed in a camp and can't leave. Think about what happened in Northern Europe when they wanted to cross the sea and go to England. They are closed inside. But it made me laugh a bit, and this is a bit of Italian culture, but it made me laugh that in a refugee camp in Sicily, a delegate of Catholic Action told me, one of the delegates from the dioceses in Argentina - there is one or two in the area there, I don't know which diocese - the heads of that city where the camp was spoke to the people in the refugee camp, and they said: you, here inside, it will hurt you and your mental health too...you have to go out, but please don't do anything bad. We can't open the door, but we can make a little hole behind. Go out, have a nice walk, and this is how relationships were made with the people who lived in that city, good relationships, and these (refugees) aren't delinquents, they don't commit crimes. The sole fact of being closed without anything (to do), this is a lager! (Editor’s note: he is referring to the German name for concentration camp. For example, Auschwitz was a “lager”). But it doesn't have anything to do with Germany, no.

Greg Burke: Thank you Holy Father.
 
Pope Francis: Thanks to you for this work you do which helps a lot of people. You don't know the good that you can do with your news pieces, with your articles, with your thoughts. We must help people and also help communication, because communication...may the press lead us to good things, may it not lead us to disorientations that don't help us. Thank you very much! Have a good dinner, and pray for me!

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis appeals for an end to violence in Venezuela

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has appealed for an end to violence in Venezuela and for respect of human rights in the country where nearly 30 people have been killed in unrest this month.

The Pope’s appeal came on Sunday before the recitation of the Regina Caeli prayer in St. Peter’s Square.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

“I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, to respect human rights and to seek a negotiated solution" he said.

Decrying the “grave humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population", the Pope said we are continuing to receive dramatic news of people being killed, injured, and detained.  

He said that he is “united in sorrow with the families of the victims” and said he is praying for “peace, reconciliation and democracy for that beloved nation.

Venezuela's opposition is demanding elections, autonomy for the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid channel from abroad to alleviate an economic crisis, and freedom for more than 100 activists jailed by President Nicolas Maduro's government.

Vatican-led talks between the government and the opposition have broken down. On Saturday evening during his return journey from Cairo, the Pope answered a question regarding the crisis in Venezuela and said that “very clear conditions" were necessary for the talks to resume.

Pope Francis also turned his thoughts and prayers for peace to all nations that are undergoing “grave difficulties” such as the Republic of Macedonia.

(from Vatican Radio)

Third Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Acts 2:14, 22-33

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven,
raised his voice, and proclaimed:
"You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem.
Let this be known to you, and listen to my words.
You who are Israelites, hear these words.
Jesus the Nazarene was a man commended to you by God
with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs,
which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God,
you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.
But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death,
because it was impossible for him to be held by it.
For David says of him:
I saw the Lord ever before me,
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted;
my flesh, too, will dwell in hope,
because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.

"My brothers, one can confidently say to you
about the patriarch David that he died and was buried,
and his tomb is in our midst to this day.
But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him
that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne,
he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ,
that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld
nor did his flesh see corruption.
God raised this Jesus;
of this we are all witnesses.
Exalted at the right hand of God,
he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father
and poured him forth, as you see and hear."

Responsorial Psalm Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11

R. (11a) Lord, you will show us the path of life.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the LORD, "My Lord are you."
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.
R. Lord, you will show us the path of life.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I bless the LORD who counsels me;
even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the LORD ever before me;
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
R. Lord, you will show us the path of life.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence;
because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.
R. Lord, you will show us the path of life.
or:
R. Alleluia.
You will show me the path to life,
abounding joy in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.
R. Lord, you will show us the path of life.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 Pt 1:17-21

Beloved:
If you invoke as Father him who judges impartially
according to each one's works,
conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning,
realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct,
handed on by your ancestors,
not with perishable things like silver or gold
but with the precious blood of Christ
as of a spotless unblemished lamb.

He was known before the foundation of the world
but revealed in the final time for you,
who through him believe in God
who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are in God.

Alleluia Cf. Lk 24:32

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Lord Jesus, open the Scriptures to us;
make our hearts burn while you speak to us.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Lk 24:13-35

That very day, the first day of the week,
two of Jesus' disciples were going
to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them,
"What are you discussing as you walk along?"
They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
"Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem
who does not know of the things
that have taken place there in these days?"
And he replied to them, "What sort of things?"
They said to him,
"The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over
to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see."
And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are!
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things
and enter into his glory?"
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them what referred to him
in all the Scriptures.
As they approached the village to which they were going,
he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
But they urged him, "Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over."
So he went in to stay with them.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other,
"Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?"
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the eleven and those with them who were saying,
"The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!"
Then the two recounted
what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.


- - -
Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Pope to Egypt's priests and religious: be sowers of hope and dialogue

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday told Egypt’s priests, religious and seminarians to be sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue, despite the many difficulties they face.

The pope’s words came during his final encounter, a prayer service at the seminary in Cairo at the end of his two day visit to the North African nation.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report:

Pope Francis began by thanking and encouraging the leaders of this tiny Catholic community for their daily witness “amid many challenges and often few consolations”.

The Catholic Coptic Church, the largest of seven different rites, counts less than 200.000 members, or less than half a percent of the population. The Pope said despite the many negative and despairing voices, priests and religious there are called to be a positive force within society.

Resist temptations

Pope Francis then urged the Catholic leaders to resist the many temptations they encounter, beginning with the desire to be led, rather than to lead the Church. A pastor, he said, is creative and always “share the caress of consolation, even when he is brokenhearted”.

The Pope also warned against the temptation of complain, to gossip, to compare oneself to others and to harden one’s heart, presuming to be served, rather than to serve others.

Coptic Catholic identity

Finally he urged them to avoid the temptations of individualism and losing their sense of direction. Your identity, he told them, “is to be Copts – rooted in your noble and ancient origins – and to be Catholics – part of the one and universal Church”.

Treasure of monastic life

Pope Francis concluded by recalling the great treasure of monastic life which has enriched the Church in Egypt since the first centuries. He urged today’s priests and religious to follow the examples of St Paul the Hermit, St Anthony, the Desert Fathers, and all monks and nuns who by their lives have been “salt and light” for the whole of society, especially for the poorest and those most in need.

Please see below the full address of Pope Francis to Priests, Religious and Seminarians at Saint Leo the Great Patriarchal Seminary, Maadi

Your Beatitudes,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

            As-salamu alaykum!   Peace be with you!

            “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice in him!  Christ is forever victorious over death, let us rejoice in him!”

            I am happy to be with you in this house of formation for priests, which represents the heart of the Catholic Church in Egypt.  I am pleased to greet you, the priests and consecrated men and women of the small Catholic flock in Egypt, as the “leaven” which God is preparing for this blessed land, so that, together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, his Kingdom may increase in this place (cf. Mt 13:13).

            I wish first of all to thank you for your witness and for the good that you do every day amid many challenges and often few consolations.   I want to encourage you!  Do not be afraid of the burdens of your daily service and the difficult circumstances some of you must endure.  We venerate the Holy Cross, the instrument and sign of our salvation.  When we flee the Cross, we flee the resurrection!

            “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32).

            This, then, demands believing, witnessing to the truth, sowing and cultivating without waiting for the harvest.  In fact, we reap the fruits of so many others, whether consecrated or not, who have generously worked in the Lord’s vineyard.  Your history is filled with such people!

           Although there are many reasons to be discouraged, amid many prophets of destruction and condemnation, and so many negative and despairing voices, may you be a positive force, salt and light for this society.  Like the engine of a train, may you be the driving force leading all towards their destination.  May you be sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue and harmony.

            This will be possible if consecrated men and women do not give in to the temptations they daily encounter along their way.  I would like to highlight some of the greatest of these temptations.

1. The temptation to let ourselves be led, rather than to lead.  The Good Shepherd has the responsibility of guiding the sheep (cf. Jn 10:3-4), of bringing them to fresh pastures and springs of flowing water (cf. Ps 23).  He cannot let himself be dragged down by disappointment and pessimism: “What can I do?”  He is always full of initiative and creativity, like a spring that flows even in the midst of drought.  He always shares the caress of consolation even when he is broken-hearted.  He is a father when his children show him gratitude, but especially when they prove ungrateful (cf. Lk 15:11-32).  Our faithfulness to the Lord must never depend on human gratitude: “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:4, 6, 18).

2.  The temptation to complain constantly.  It is easy to always complain about others, about the shortcomings of superiors, about the state of the Church and society, about the lack of possibilities…  But consecrated persons, though the Spirit’s anointing, are those who turn every obstacle into an opportunity, and not every difficulty into an excuse!  The person who is always complaining is really someone who doesn’t want to work.  It was for this reason that the Lord said to the pastors: “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees” (Heb 12:12; cf. Is 35:3).

3.  The temptation to gossip and envy.  It is a great danger when consecrated persons, instead of helping the little ones to grow and to rejoice in the successes of their brothers and sisters, allow themselves to be dominated by envy and to hurt others through gossip.  When, instead of striving to grow, they start to destroy those who are growing; instead of following their good example, they judge them and belittle their value.  Envy is a cancer that destroys the body in no time: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mk 3:24-25).  In fact, “through the devil’s envy death entered the world” (Wis 2:24).  Gossip is its means and its weapon.  

4.  The temptation to compare ourselves to others.  Enrichment is found in the diversity and uniqueness of each one of us.  Comparing ourselves with those better off often leads to grudges; comparing ourselves with those worse off often leads to pride and laziness.  Those who are always comparing themselves with others end up paralyzed.  May we learn from Saints Peter and Paul to experience the diversity of qualities, charisms and opinions through willingness to listen and docility to the Holy Spirit.

5.  The temptation to become like Pharaoh, that is to harden our hearts and close them off to the Lord and our brothers and sisters.  Here the temptation is to think that we are better than others, and to lord it over them out of pride; to presume to be served rather than to serve.  It is a temptation that, from the very beginning, was present among the disciples, who – as the Gospel tells us – “on the way argued with one another who was the greatest” (Mk 9:34).  The antidote to this poison is: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).

6.  The temptation to individualism.  As a well-known Egyptian saying goes: “Me, and after me, the flood!”  This is the temptation of selfish people: along the way, they lose sight of the goal and, rather than think of others, they are unashamed to think only of themselves, or even worse, to justify themselves.  The Church is the community of the faithful, the Body of Christ, where the salvation of one member is linked to the holiness of all (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-27; Lumen Gentium, 7.)  An individualist is a cause of scandal and of conflict.

7.  The temptation to keep walking without direction or destination.  Consecrated men and women can lose their identity and begin to be “neither fish nor fowl”.  They can live with a heart between God and worldliness.  They can forget their first love (cf. Rev 2:4).  Indeed, when they lose clear and solid identity, consecrated men and women end up walking aimlessly; instead of leading others, they scatter them.  Your identity as sons and daughters of the Church is to be Copts – rooted in your noble and ancient origins – and to be Catholics – part of the one and universal Church: like a tree that, the more deeply rooted it is in the earth, the higher it reaches to the heavens!

            Dear consecrated friends, resisting these temptations is not easy, but it is possible if we are grafted on to Jesus: “Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (Jn 15:4).  The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we are alive and fruitful!  Only in this way can we preserve the wonder and the passion of our first encounter with God, and experience renewed excitement and gratitude in our life with God and in our mission.  The quality of our consecration depends on the quality of our spiritual life.

            Egypt has enriched the Church through the inestimable value of monastic life.  I urge you, therefore, to draw upon to the example of Saint Paul the Hermit, Saint Anthony, the holy Desert Fathers, and the countless monks and nuns who by their lives and example opened the gates of heaven to so many of our brothers and sisters.  You too can be salt and light, and thus an occasion of salvation for yourselves and for all others, believers and non-believers alike, and especially for those who are poor, those in need, the abandoned and discarded.

            May the Holy Family protect and bless all of you, your country and its entire people.  With all my heart, I invoke God’s blessings on you, and through you I greet the faithful whom the Lord has entrusted to your care.  May he grant you the fruits of his Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22).

            You are always in my heart and in my prayers.  Take heart and keep moving forward with the help of the Holy Spirit!  “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice in him!”  And please, don’t forget to pray for me!

 

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis at Cairo Mass: live lives ablaze with charity

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis was the principal celebrant and homilist at Mass for Egyptian Catholics in the “Air Defense Stadium” in Cairo on Saturday.

In his homily, focused on the Gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, which tells of Our Lord’s going to meet the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Holy Father said, “The encounter with the Risen Jesus transformed the lives of those two disciples because meeting the Risen One transforms every life, and makes fruitful what is barren.”

He went on to say, “Faith in the resurrection is not a product of the Church, but the Church herself is born of faith in the resurrection.”

Pope Francis then spoke of the need to proclaim our faith in the resurrection precisely by living in a way that conveys our conviction, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity,” and, “any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him,” and then encouraged the gathered faithful to be like the disciples of Emmaus.

“Filled with joy, courage and faith,” he said, “return to your own Jerusalem, that is, to your daily lives, your families, your work and your beloved country.  Do not be afraid to open your hearts to the light of the Risen Lord, and let him transform your uncertainty into a positive force for yourselves and for others.  Do not be afraid to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, because the strength and treasure of the believer lies in a life of love!”

The Holy Father invoked the protection of Our Lord, Jesus, his Blessed Mother, and her most chaste spouse, St. Joseph, over the whole land and people.

“May Our Lady and the Holy Family, who dwelt in this venerable land of yours, enlighten our hearts and bless you and this beloved country of Egypt, which at the dawn of Christianity welcomed the preaching of Saint Mark, and throughout its history has brought forth so many martyrs and a great multitude of holy men and women.”

(from Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis in Cairo: full text of homily at Sat AM Mass

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis was the principal celebrant and homilist at Mass for Egyptian Catholics in the “Air Defense Stadium” in Cairo on Saturday. Below, please find the full text of the Holy Father’s prepared remarks, in their official English translation.

***********************************

Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis
Holy Mass, Cairo
29 April 2017

As-salamu alaykum!   Peace be with you!

Today’s Gospel of the third Sunday of Easter speaks to us of the journey to Emmaus of the two disciples who set out from Jerusalem.  It can be summed up in three words: death, resurrection and life.

Death.  The two disciples are returning, full of despair and disappointment, to life as usual.  The Master is dead and thus it is pointless to hope.  They feel disappointment and despair.  Theirs is a journey of return, as they leave behind the painful experience of Jesus’ crucifixion.  The crisis of the cross, indeed the “scandal” and “foolishness” of the cross (cf. 1 Cor 1:18, 2:2), seems to have buried any hope they had.  The one on whom they had built their lives is dead; in his defeat, he brought all their aspirations with him to the tomb.

They could not believe that their Master and Saviour, who had raised others from the dead and healed the sick, would end up hanging on the cross of shame.  They could not understand why Almighty God had not saved him from such a disgraceful death.  The cross of Christ was the cross of their own ideas about God; the death of Christ was the death of what they thought God to be.  But in fact, it was they who were dead, buried in the tomb of their limited understanding. 

How often do we paralyze ourselves by refusing to transcend our own ideas of God, a god created in the image and likeness of man!  How often do we despair by refusing to believe that God’s omnipotence is not one of power and authority, but rather of love, forgiveness and life!

The disciples recognized Jesus in the “breaking of the bread”, in the Eucharist.  Unless we tear apart the veil clouding our vision and shatter the hardness of our hearts and our prejudices, we will never be able to recognize the face of God.

Resurrection.  In the gloom of their darkest night, at the moment of their greatest despair, Jesus approaches the two disciples and walks at their side, to make them see that he is “the Way, and the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6).  Jesus turns their despair into life, for when human hope vanishes, divine hope begins to shine in its place.  “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk 18:27; cf. 1:37).  When we reach the depths of failure and helplessness, when we rid ourselves of the illusion that we are the best, sufficient unto ourselves and the centre of our world, then God reaches out to us to turn our night into dawn, our affliction into joy, our death into resurrection.  He turns our steps back to Jerusalem, back to life and to the victory of the Cross (cf. Heb 11:34).

After meeting the Risen Lord, the two disciples returned filled with joy, confidence and enthusiasm, ready to bear witness.  The Risen One made them rise from the tomb of their unbelief and their sorrow.  Encountering the Lord, crucified and risen, they discovered the meaning and fulfilment of the whole of Scripture, the Law and the Prophets.  They discovered the meaning of the apparent defeat of the cross.

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair!  For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power. 

Life.  The encounter with the Risen Jesus transformed the lives of those two disciples because meeting the Risen One transforms every life, and makes fruitful what is barren (cf. BENEDICT XVI, General Audience, 11 April 2007).  Faith in the resurrection is not a product of the Church, but the Church herself is born of faith in the resurrection.  As Saint Paul says: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14).

The Risen Lord vanished from the sight of the disciples in order to teach us that we cannot hold on to Jesus as he appeared in history: “Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen” (Jn 21:29; cf. 20:17).  The Church needs to know and believe that Jesus lives within her and gives her life in the Eucharist, the scriptures and the sacraments.  The disciples on the way to Emmaus realized this, and returned to Jerusalem in order to share their experience with the others: “We have seen the Risen One… Yes, he is truly risen!” (cf. Lk 24:32).

The experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus teaches us that it is of no use to fill our places of worship if our hearts are empty of the fear of God and of his presence.  It is of no use to pray if our prayer to God does not turn into love for our brothers and sisters.  All our religiosity means nothing unless it is inspired by deep faith and charity.  It is of no use to be concerned about our image, since God looks at the soul and the heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7) and he detests hypocrisy (cf. Lk 11:37-54; Acts 5:3, 4)[1].  For God, it is better not to believe than to be a false believer, a hypocrite!

True faith is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane.  It moves our hearts to love everyone without counting the cost, without distinction and without preference.  It makes us see the other not as an enemy to be overcome, but a brother or sister to be loved, served and helped.  It spurs us on to spread, defend and live out the culture of encounter, dialogue, respect and fraternity.  It gives us the courage to forgive those who have wronged us, to extend a hand to the fallen, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to visit the imprisoned, to help orphans, to give drink to those who thirst, and to come to the aid of the elderly and those in need (cf. Mt 25).  True faith leads us to protect the rights of others with the same zeal and enthusiasm with which we defend our own.  Indeed, the more we grow in faith and knowledge, the more we grow in humility and in the awareness of our littleness.

Dear brothers and sisters,

God is pleased only by a faith that is proclaimed by our lives, for the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity!  Any other fanaticism does not come from God and is not pleasing to him!

So now, like the disciples of Emmaus, filled with joy, courage and faith, return to your own Jerusalem, that is, to your daily lives, your families, your work and your beloved country.  Do not be afraid to open your hearts to the light of the Risen Lord, and let him transform your uncertainty into a positive force for yourselves and for others.  Do not be afraid to love everyone, friends and enemies alike, because the strength and treasure of the believer lies in a life of love!

May Our Lady and the Holy Family, who dwelt in this venerable land of yours, enlighten our hearts and bless you and this beloved country of Egypt, which at the dawn of Christianity welcomed the preaching of Saint Mark, and throughout its history has brought forth so many martyrs and a great multitude of holy men and women.

Al Masih qam!  Bi-l-haqiqa qam!

Christ is risen!  He is truly risen!

 

[1] Saint Ephraim exclaims: “Just tear off the mask that covers the hypocrite and you will see only corruption” (Sermon). “Woe to them that are of a double heart”, says Ecclesiasticus (2:14, Vulg).  

(from Vatican Radio)

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Reading 1 Acts 6:1-7

As the number of disciples continued to grow,
the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews
because their widows
were being neglected in the daily distribution.
So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said,
"It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.
Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men,
filled with the Spirit and wisdom,
whom we shall appoint to this task,
whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer
and to the ministry of the word."
The proposal was acceptable to the whole community,
so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit,
also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas,
and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
They presented these men to the Apostles
who prayed and laid hands on them.
The word of God continued to spread,
and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly;
even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19

R. (22) Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Exult, you just, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
or:
R. Alleluia.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ is risen, who made all things;
he has shown mercy on all people.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Jn 6:16-21

When it was evening, the disciples of Jesus went down to the sea,
embarked in a boat, and went across the sea to Capernaum.
It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.
When they had rowed about three or four miles,
they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat,
and they began to be afraid.
But he said to them, "It is I. Do not be afraid."
They wanted to take him into the boat,
but the boat immediately arrived at the shore
to which they were heading.


- - -
Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Pope in Egypt: Catholics and Copts recognise shared baptism

(Vatican Radio) In a common declaration, signed by Pope Francis and Coptic Pope Tawadros II, Catholics and Copts declare for the first time that they will recognise each other’s sacrament of baptism.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen’s report:

The joint statement was made public following a meeting of the Catholic and Coptic leaders in Cairo on Friday. It comes forty-four years after Pope Paul VI first met with the previous Coptic Pope Shenouda III in May 1973. That encounter marked a milestone in relations, following centuries of separation, and it led to the setting up of a Commission for theological dialogue with the whole family of Oriental Orthodox Churches.

In the new common declaration, Francis and Tawadros recall the progress made since then and call for a deepening of their shared roots in faith through common prayer. In particular the statement calls for a common translation of the Lord’s Prayer and a common date for the celebration of Easter.

Catholics and Copts, it says, can witness together to the shared values of human life, the sacredness of marriage and the family, and respect for creation. The declaration calls for intensified prayers for all Christians who are persecuted and killed for their faith, especially in Egypt and the Middle East.

Most significantly, the statement also resolves an issue which has been a constant source of tension in the dialogue between Copts and Catholics: that of insisting on a second baptism for Christians who convert from one Church to another. Today, the two popes declare, “we will not repeat the baptism that had been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other”. 

Please find below the full text of the Common Declaration

1.   We, Francis, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark, give thanks to God in the Holy Spirit for granting us the joyful opportunity to meet once more, to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer. We glorify the Almighty for the bonds of fraternity and friendship existing between the See of Saint Peter and the See of Saint Mark. The privilege of being together here in Egypt is a sign that the solidity of our relationship is increasing year by year, and that we are growing in closeness, faith and love of Christ our Lord. We give thanks to God for this beloved Egypt, the “homeland that lives inside us,” as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III used to say, the “people blessed by God” (cf. Is 19:25) with its ancient Pharaonic civilization, the Greek and Roman heritage, the Coptic tradition and the Islamic presence. Egypt is the place where the Holy Family found refuge, a land of martyrs and saints.

2.   Our deep bond of friendship and fraternity has its origin in the full communion that existed between our Churches in the first centuries and was expressed in many different ways through the early Ecumenical Councils, dating back to the Council of Nicaea in 325 and the contribution of the courageous Church Father Saint Athanasius, who earned the title “Protector of the Faith”. Our communion was expressed through prayer and similar liturgical practices, the veneration of the same martyrs and saints, and in the development and spread of monasticism, following the example of the great Saint Anthony, known as the Father of all monks.

     This common experience of communion before the time of separation has a special significance in our efforts to restore full communion today. Most of the relations which existed in the early centuries between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church have continued to the present day in spite of divisions, and have recently been revitalized.  They challenge us to intensify our common efforts to persevere in the search for visible unity in diversity, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

3.   We recall with gratitude the historic meeting forty-four years ago between our predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, in an embrace of peace and fraternity, after many centuries when our mutual bonds of love were not able to find expression due to the distance that had arisen between us.  The Common Declaration they signed on 10 May 1973 represented a milestone on the path of ecumenism, and served as a starting point for the Commission for Theological Dialogue between our two Churches, which has borne much fruit and opened the way to a broader dialogue between the Catholic Church and the whole family of Oriental Orthodox Churches.  In that Declaration, our Churches acknowledged that, in line with the apostolic tradition, they profess “one faith in the One Triune God” and “the divinity of the Only-begotten Son of God ... perfect God with respect to his divinity, perfect man with respect to his humanity”.  It was also acknowledged that “the divine life is given to us and is nourished in us through the seven sacraments” and that “we venerate the Virgin Mary, Mother of the True Light”, the “Theotokos”.

4.    With deep gratitude we recall our own fraternal meeting in Rome on 10 May 2013, and the establishment of 10 May as the day when each year we deepen the friendship and brotherhood between our Churches.  This renewed spirit of closeness has enabled us to discern once more that the bond uniting us was received from our one Lord on the day of our Baptism.  For it is through Baptism that we become members of the one Body of Christ that is the Church (cf. 1 Cor 12:13). This common heritage is the basis of our pilgrimage together towards full communion, as we grow in love and reconciliation.

5.    We are aware that we still have far to go on this pilgrimage, yet we recall how much has already been accomplished.  In particular, we call to mind the meeting between Pope Shenouda III and Saint John Paul II, who came as a pilgrim to Egypt during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000.  We are determined to follow in their footsteps, moved by the love of Christ the good Shepherd, in the profound conviction that by walking together, we grow in unity.  May we draw our strength from God, the perfect source of communion and love.

6.    This love finds its deepest expression in common prayer.  When Christians pray together, they come to realize that what unites them is much greater than what divides them.  Our longing for unity receives its inspiration from the prayer of Christ “that all may be one” (Jn 17:21).  Let us deepen our shared roots in the one apostolic faith by praying together and by seeking common translations of the Lord’s Prayer and a common date for the celebration of Easter.

7.    As we journey towards the blessed day when we will at last gather at the same Eucharistic table, we can cooperate in many areas and demonstrate in a tangible way the great richness which already unites us.  We can bear witness together to fundamental values such as the sanctity and dignity of human life, the sacredness of marriage and the family, and respect for all of creation, entrusted to us by God.  In the face of many contemporary challenges such as secularization and the globalization of indifference, we are called to offer a shared response based on the values of the Gospel and the treasures of our respective traditions.  In this regard, we are encouraged to engage in a deeper study of the Oriental and Latin Fathers, and to promote a fruitful exchange in pastoral life, especially in catechesis, and in mutual spiritual enrichment between monastic and religious communities.

8.    Our shared Christian witness is a grace-filled sign of reconciliation and hope for Egyptian society and its institutions, a seed planted to bear fruit in justice and peace.  Since we believe that all human beings are created in the image of God, we strive for serenity and concord through a peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims, thus bearing witness to God’s desire for the unity and harmony of the entire human family and the equal dignity of each human being.  We share a concern for the welfare and the future of Egypt.  All members of society have the right and duty to participate fully in the life of the nation, enjoying full and equal citizenship and collaborating to build up their country. Religious freedom, including freedom of conscience, rooted in the dignity of the person, is the cornerstone of all other freedoms.  It is a sacred and inalienable right.

9.    Let us intensify our unceasing prayer for all Christians in Egypt and throughout the whole world, and especially in the Middle East.  The tragic experiences and the blood shed by our faithful who were persecuted and killed for the sole reason of being Christian, remind us all the more that the ecumenism of martyrdom unites us and encourages us along the way to peace and reconciliation.  For, as Saint Paul writes: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26).

10.  The mystery of Jesus who died and rose out of love lies at the heart of our journey towards full unity.  Once again, the martyrs are our guides.  In the early Church the blood of the martyrs was the seed of new Christians.  So too in our own day, may the blood of so many martyrs be the seed of unity among all Christ’s disciples, a sign and instrument of communion and peace for the world.

11.  In obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies the Church, keeps her throughout the ages, and leads her to full unity – that unity for which Jesus Christ prayed:

      Today we, Pope Francis and Pope Tawadros II, in order to please the heart of the Lord Jesus, as well as that of our sons and daughters in the faith, mutually declare that we, with one mind and heart,will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other.  This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.

       We ask God our Father to guide us, in the times and by the means that the Holy Spirit will choose, to full unity in the mystical Body of Christ.

12.   Let us, then, be guided by the teachings and the example of the Apostle Paul, who writes: “[Make] every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:3-6).

Cairo, 28th April 2017

(from Vatican Radio)

Catholics and Copts must speak "the common language of charity"

(Vatican Radio) In a meeting with Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox leader Pope Tawadros II on Friday, Pope Francis said the two communities must oppose violence and work more closely together to witness to Christ in the world.  

Listen to our report:

Recalling the first encounter of a Catholic and a Coptic pope, Paul VI and Shenouda III in May 1973, following centuries of separation, Pope Francis spoke of the theological progress, but also the realization that “it is no longer possible to take refuge behind the pretext of differing interpretations”.

Shared faith and baptism

Alongside the ecumenism of gestures, words and commitments, he stressed, there is an effective spiritual communion grounded in a shared faith and common baptism. Calling for Orthodox and Catholics to speak “the common language of charity”, Pope Francis urged all Christians to work more closely together to carry their faith to the world.

In particular he praised the Orthodox leader for his efforts to promote good relations through the establishment of a National Council of Christian Churches.

Ecumenism of blood

This deepening of the ecumenical journey, Pope Francis said, is mysteriously sustained by the blood of the many martyrs, from past centuries but also of the present day. Recalling the “innocent blood of defenceless Christians” killed in recent terror attacks, he said “strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity”.

Please find below the address of Pope Francis to Pope Tawadros II in Cairo

The Lord is risen, he is truly risen!  [Al Massih kam, bilhakika kam!]

Your Holiness, Dear Brother,

Only a short time has passed since the great Solemnity of Easter, the heart of the Christian life, which we were blessed this year to celebrate on the same day.  We thus joined in proclaiming the Easter message and, in a sense, relived the experience of the first disciples who together “rejoiced when they saw the Lord” that day (Jn 20:20).  This paschal joy is today made all the more precious by the gift of our joining to worship the Risen One in prayer and by our renewed exchange, in his name, of the holy kiss and embrace of peace.  For this, I am deeply grateful: in coming here as a pilgrim, I was sure of receiving the blessing of a brother who awaited me.  I have eagerly looked forward to this new meeting, for I vividly recall the visit Your Holiness made to Rome shortly after my election, on 10 May 2013.  That date has happily become the occasion for celebrating an annual Day of Friendship between Copts and Catholics.

            As we joyfully progress on our ecumenical journey, I wish particularly to recall that milestone in relations between the Sees of Peter and Mark which is the Common Declaration signed by our predecessors more than forty years ago, on 10 May 1973.  After “centuries of difficult history” marked by increasing “theological differences, nourished and widened by non-theological factors”, and growing mistrust, we were able that day, with God’s help, to acknowledge together that Christ is “perfect God with respect to his divinity and perfect man with respect to his humanity” (Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, 10 May 1973).  Yet equally important and timely are the words that immediately precede this statement, in which we acknowledge Jesus Christ as “our Lord and God and Saviour and King”.  With these words, the See of Mark and the See of Peter proclaimed the lordship of Jesus: together we confessed that we belong to Jesus and that he is our all. 

            What is more, we realized that, because we belong to him, we can no longer think that each can go his own way, for that would betray his will that his disciples “all be one… so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).  In the sight of God, who wishes us to be “perfectly one” (v. 23), it is no longer possible to take refuge behind the pretext of differing interpretations, much less of those centuries of history and traditions that estranged us one from the other.  In the words of His Holiness John Paul II, “there is no time to lose in this regard!  Our communion in the one Lord Jesus Christ, in the one Holy Spirit and in one baptism already represents a deep and fundamental reality” (Address at the Ecumenical Meeting, 25 February 2000).  Consequently, not only is there an ecumenism of gestures, words and commitment, but an already effective communion that grows daily in living relation with the Lord Jesus, is rooted in the faith we profess and is truly grounded on our baptism and our being made a “new creation” (cf. 2 Cor 5:17) in him.  In a word, there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5).  Hence, we constantly set out anew, in order to hasten that eagerly awaited day when we will be in full and visible communion around the altar of the Lord.

            In this exciting journey, which – like life itself – is not always easy and straightforward, but on which the Lord exhorts us to persevere, we are not alone.  We are accompanied by a great host of saints and martyrs who, already fully one, impel us here below to be a living image of the “Jerusalem above” (Gal 4:26).  Among them, surely Peter and Mark in particular rejoice in our encounter today.  Great is the bond uniting them.  We need only think of the fact that Saint Mark put at the heart of his Gospel Peter’s profession of faith: “You are the Christ”.  It was the answer to Jesus ever urgent question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29).  Today too, many people cannot answer this question; there are even few people who can raise it, and above all few who can answer it with the joy of knowing Jesus, that same joy with which we have the grace of confessing him together.

            Together, then, we are called to bear witness to him, to carry our faith to the world, especially in the way it is meant to be brought: by living it, so that Jesus’ presence can be communicated with life and speak the language of gratuitous and concrete love.  As Coptic Orthodox and Catholics, we can always join in speaking this common language of charity: before undertaking a charitable work, we would do well to ask if we can do it together with our brothers and sisters who share our faith in Jesus. Thus, by building communion in the concreteness of a daily lived witness, the Spirit will surely open providential and unexpected paths to unity.

            It is with this constructive apostolic spirit that Your Holiness continues to show a genuine and fraternal attention for the Coptic Catholic Church.  I am most grateful for this closeness, which has found praiseworthy expression in the National Council of Christian Churches, which you have established so that believers in Jesus can work together more closely for the benefit of Egyptian society as a whole.  I also greatly appreciated the generous hospitality offered to the thirteenth Meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which took place here last year at your invitation.  It is a promising sign that the following meeting took place this year in Rome, as if to bespeak a particular continuity between the Sees of Mark and Peter.

            In the sacred Scriptures, Peter seems in some way to reciprocate the affection of Mark by calling him “my son” (1 Pet 5:13).  But the Evangelist and his apostolic activity are also fraternally associated with Saint Paul, who, before dying a martyr in Rome, mentions Mark’s great usefulness in his ministry (cf. 2 Tim 4:11) and speaks of him frequently (cf. Philem 24; Col 4:10).  Fraternal charity and communion in mission: these are the messages that the word of God and our own origins have bequeathed to us.  They are the evangelical seeds that we rejoice to water together and, with God’s help, to make grow (cf. 1 Cor 3:6-7).

            The deepening progress of our ecumenical journey is also sustained, in mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood.  Saint John tells us that Jesus came “with water and blood” (1 Jn 5:6); whoever believes in him thus “overcomes the world” (1 Jn 5:5).  With water and blood: by living a new life in our common baptism, a life of love always and for all, even at the cost of the sacrifice of one’s life.  How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil, or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil!  The venerable Martyrology of the Coptic Church bears eloquent witness to this.  Even in recent days, tragically, the innocent blood of defenceless Christians was cruelly shed: their innocent blood unites us. Most dear brother, just as the heavenly Jerusalem is one, so too is our martyrology; your sufferings are also our sufferings.  Strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and of peace for all.

            The impressive history of holiness of this land is distinguished not only by the sacrifice of the martyrs.  No sooner had the ancient persecutions ended, than a new and selfless form of life arose as a gift of the Lord: monasticism originated in the desert.  Thus, the great signs that God had once worked in Egypt and at the Red Sea (cf. Ps 106:21-22) were followed by the miracle of a new life that made the desert blossom with sanctity.  With veneration for this shared patrimony, I have come as a pilgrim to this land that the Lord himself loves to visit.  For here, in his glory he came down upon Mount Sinai (cf. Ex 24:16), and here, in his humility, he found refuge as a child (cf. Mt 2:14).

            Your Holiness, dearest brother, may the same Lord today grant us to set out together as pilgrims of communion and messengers of peace.  On this journey, may the Virgin Mary take us by the hand, she who brought Jesus here, and whom the great Egyptian theological tradition has from of old acclaimed as Theotokos, the Mother of God.  In this title, humanity and divinity are joined, for in his Mother, God became forever man.  May the Blessed Virgin, who constantly leads us to Jesus, the perfect symphony of divine and human, bring yet once more a bit of heaven to our earth.

(from Vatican Radio)